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Volume 720: debated on Thursday 22 July 2010


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they will review the impact of the points-based visa system on visiting artists and performers.

My Lords, there are no current plans for such a specific review, but a broader survey across all categories of tier 5 applicants—including, of course, artists and performers—has recently been undertaken, the findings of which will shortly be published. The arts and entertainment task force is closely involved to ensure that the detail of the system reflects the creative sector’s needs while being robust and fair.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that encouraging reply. It was a breath of fresh air compared with replies on the subject from the previous Government. Will the Minister ensure that, in the process that he has described, he will consult the Manifesto Club and talk personally to the arts community, which has a great concern about this? Will he include also the issue of academic visiting visas, which is a matter of concern to the academic community?

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for that question. As I have said, the survey has been completed and the results will shortly be published. My noble friend was good enough to give me sight of a paper from the Manifesto Club which referred to three specific examples of artists. To explain each in detail would take too long today but, to summarise, in one case the applicant cut rather fine the timing of the application; in the other cases, the applicants provided no evidence of funds to support them in the UK. Although advice and guidance are available, it sounds as though in the latter two cases better advice could have been provided, and I have made that clear to the department.

My Lords, given the devastation that the Government plan to visit upon the arts through massive cuts in public funding for which there is no conceivable justification, is it not all the more important that no unnecessary bureaucratic obstacles should be placed in the way of distinguished performers coming to work with our orchestras, theatre companies and other arts organisations?

My Lords, I agree at least with the latter half of the noble Lord’s contention. Two routes are useful for short-term visitors: one is a concession under tier 5 for non-visa nationals that requires no prior entry clearance—I can explain the system in greater detail to the noble Lord if he wishes—and the other is an entertainer visitor scheme outside the points-based system. We are doing what we can to help.

My Lords, does the Minister realise that whether artists are unknown or established, poor or rich, cultural interaction and travel are part of their lifeblood? It should be as easy for overseas artists to visit this country as it is for British artists to travel abroad.

I cannot disagree with anything the noble Earl has said. It is very important to us to encourage and foster culture in our country. Foreign artists and performers are extremely welcome here, but the system has to be conducted in a robust but fair way.

My Lords, where an artist—let us say for reasons of health—has to drop out of a performance at very short notice and the only suitable replacement artist is from abroad, is my noble friend aware of the potential difficulty in obtaining a visa for the artist coming in as a subsidiary?

My Lords, yes, I am aware of that. As I have tried to explain, there are certain routes to facilitate an artist in that situation, but they have to be used with a system of undertaking proper checks of documentation.

My Lords, many artists travel to this country—to study, in particular—on ancestry visas. What is the coalition policy on ancestry visas?

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her question. I am not briefed on that specific point, so I will write to her, if I may.

My Lords, I am delighted to hear the noble Baroness, Lady Liddell, ask her first question. She was a very honourable High Commissioner for Australia. I asked, and had an answer from, the previous Government about people coming here to study—exactly those referred to by the noble Baroness. Will the Minister consider that there is a great deal of difference between visiting artists and young people who are not yet artists? I have cited in the past Joan Sutherland, who was nothing when she first came here. The time and training that she had here made a difference. The previous Government replied that they had introduced a degree of flexibility to enable young talent to come particularly from Australia, because Australian points are what we are basing this on. No one goes to Australia to become an artist.

My Lords, I am racking my brains to think of an artist, but I accept my noble friend’s general point. I mentioned earlier in answer to the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, the concession under tier 5, which allows for non-visa nationals, including nationals from Australia specifically. That is one example. We will look at any suggestions that that my noble friend may offer.

My Lords, in view of the supplementary point made by the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, about academics, is any check being made of the impact of the points system on academic appointments?

The noble Lord will of course be aware that the Question was about tier 5 applicants and students. I think that academics are dealt with under tier 4, which is somewhat outside the scope of the Question. I will look into what he asks and write to him, if I may.

My Lords, tempted as I am to ask the noble Lord why he thinks the Sydney Opera House was built, does he recognise that in the operation of the system the problem often lies not at policy level but on the ground, where there is insufficient briefing and training for everyone to operate the system in the way that is intended?

Yes, my Lords, I take that point. My noble friend may be interested to hear that the independent chief inspector has recently published a report on the UKBA’s handling of complaints and correspondence that makes a number of important recommendations. We are determined to act on those and improve our existing practices. In future, I am hopeful that the certain lack of helpfulness to which my noble friend referred will be addressed.